I am a terrible law student. That’s not self-deprecation. That is my honest evaluation.
I represent the small demographic of law students who enrolled in law school simply because they didn’t know what else to do.
Oh yes, we are among you. We are the liberal arts majors who couldn’t find a decent job and longed to return to the comforting cocoon of higher education.
Too practical to pursue a PHD, and too math-challenged to get an MBA, law school is our default “plan B.” Once enrolled, we are typically defined by our apathy and ambivalence.
Everyone “hates” law school. It’s stressful and exhausting and overly competitive. But, underneath the layers of angst, most law students actually enjoy law. They like the challenge; they thrive on the stress; they enjoy the intellectual stimulation, or the potential to enact meaningful societal changes, or the thrill of the fight.
I represent the 2-5% of law students who genuinely hate the experience.
I am solidly middle-of-the-pack grade wise, but I’ve never been on a journal, never been on a trial team, never done pro-bono, and never had a law job. Because, when push comes to shove, I hate law and I would rather perform my own dental work than spend any additional time at the law school each week.
Basically, I goof off all semester until exams, then I panic-cram for about two weeks, and then its over. I have almost dropped out three times, and I truly regret that I didn’t have the balls to do it. But it’s too late now for practical reasons.
My parents (both attorneys themselves) insist that it will all pay off in the long run. Maybe they’re right. But it’s painfully clear that a law degree is no longer a ticket to a middle-class lifestyle. And I can’t shake the feeling that I am expending a lot of time, energy, misery and (most of all) money that I will never get back.
So, the question is: what can or should law schools do about students like me?
First of all, law schools should STOP telling students that they can “do anything” with a law degree. This is bullshit. It’s not a lie, per se, but it encourages people like me (floaters, who don’t know what they want to do with their lives) to apply, enroll and then figure it out later.
If you don’t know what you want to do for a living, but you know that it probably isn’t going to involve practicing law, a law degree is essentially a $100K resume-padder. What’s worse, there is a good chance you will wind up practicing law- even though you hate it-just to repay the loans. Alternatively, you might get a job that is so unrelated that you never end up using the expensive degree, in which case the whole experience was one big, expensive exercise in masochism.
Step two is to enact something like the somewhat controversial plan proposed by Akhil Reed Amar and Ian Ayres in a 2011 article for Slate Magazine: offer to rebate half of a student’s first-year tuition if the student opts to quit school at the end of the first year.
“The idea is to mark the end of the first year, after students have received their grades, as a salient decision-making point. At that time, students will have learned more about their legal abilities and inclinations.” The article explains.
That way the school is not wasting its resources on dead end students (like me), and the student isn’t wasting his time and resources on an education that isn’t well suited to his interests or desires.